"It seems that it was more-or-less impossible to make good art about the presidency of Donald Trump. Unlike previous populist fascists, who inspired great works of art by everyone from Picasso to punk rockers, Trump’s presidency was, evidently, so nakedly ridiculous as to leave nothing else to say. It simply happened. The one exception I’ve encountered, in all four years, is Sapphogeist’s brilliant ‘Mar A Lago’, from her 2017 album released on Bank Records of the same name."
- Mark Cutler, Toneglow, December 2020 (continued below)
"Honestly, this is the rare work of art which changed how I interpret another work of art. The song begins with a Trump impersonator delivering a modified version of Martin Sheen’s opening monologue from Apocalypse Now. Though I will always love Apocalypse Now, Sapphogeist’s appropriation manages to puncture the inflated machismo of the original in a way that’s difficult to forget. When I last rewatched the film, after a dozen or so listens of this song, I found myself laughing all the way through Sheen’s ponderous, gravelly recitations.
However, the monologue also works without a background knowledge of its source. Taken on its own, the speech paints a dark portrait of a weak man, facing a job he didn’t want to do, dreaming of his ‘safe space’—an Italianate resort on the Florida coast. Yet the relationship between the man and his property is not simple. It seems that, although Trump craves the safety of Mar-a-Lago, he also knows that it is somehow siphoning his energy, making him “softer, smaller”: as the Trump impersonator intones, “I get weaker... she gets stronger.” The resort has an almost supernatural hold on the president, drawing him back into its confines, again, and again, and again. This nearly-vampiric relationship is cemented when Sapphogeist begins to sing in character as the resort, addressing Trump directly:
Hello, are you a success, / You disgrace?
Are you a boy? Are you a man? / Well I’m a place.
In Sapphogeist’s rendering, Mar-a-Lago is not only conscious; it’s malicious, manipulative. Mar-a-Lago stood for sixty years before Trump purchased it in 1985, and we get the sense that the resort is well aware of this. It knows that it predates Trump, and that it will outlive him, too. Mar-a-Lago is confident, almost seductive, even as it confesses the symbiosis of its relationship with its owner and most loyal guest:
I’m old enough to know / I’m big enough show
In Spanish marble and gold / I’m unforgettable
Wherever you go, I’ll go
Mar-a-Lago, the resort, taunts Trump, emasculates him—and yet, it misses him too. It wants him. And he wants it—or should I say her? The lyrics artfully convey the feeling of a strange, psychosexual bond between the 45th president and his beloved resort. Each, on some level, views the other as an enemy: Trump realizes that Mar-a-Lago is feeding off of him, while the resort views its owner as a “disgrace,” as the weakling he truly is. Yet, at the same time, each of them needs the other. They are locked together in a toxic but inseparable relationship; two sick, sour souls who deserve no better than each other.
I wouldn’t say that the song makes me any more sympathetic towards Trump, exactly. However, by transforming a rather garish Florida resort into a sentient, voracious, Shining-like entity, Sapphogeist hits on some truth about the president’s real addiction to his favourite piece of property. This is a song about a man lost in his own personal war; who stumbles through his new, unwanted life so baffled, so paranoid, that he thinks a hotel is plotting against him—and, in Sapphogeist’s vivid rendering and mocking delivery, we almost believe it, too."